U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) predicted to a forum of 200 conservationists today that “within twenty years a new energy sprawl will consume an area larger than the state of Nebraska. Without wise choices,” he said, “the unintended consequences from using renewable energy to mitigate climate change could damage the environment in the name of saving the environment.”
The Tennessee Republican, a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee and Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, spoke today at a forum hosted by Resources for the Future and asked the conservationists present to suggest to policymakers the wisest choices to avoid this sprawl. He also asked them to rethink nuclear power, which he acknowledged “gives most conservationists a stomach ache, because it can produce the largest amounts of low-cost, reliable, carbon-free electricity while being least intrusive to the environment.”
Alexander cited a Nature Conservancy scientific paper published in August entitled, “Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America,” which the senator said “should serve as a Paul Revere ride for the coming renewable energy sprawl.” He said that the report’s suggestions for mitigating the damaging side effects of sprawl include increasing energy conservation, putting solar panels on existing rooftops, making carbon regulation flexible enough to allow all forms of carbon-free energy production, and appropriately siting new energy installations.
The senator said a major insight of the report is that some forms of carbon-free electricity production consume much less land than others. For example, he said that the nation could produce 20 percent of America’s electricity from carbon-free sources either by putting 100 nuclear reactors on 100 square miles, or 186,000 wind turbines on 25,000 square miles. Alexander added that the wind turbines would also need up to 19,000 miles of new transmission lines to carry electricity from remote to populated areas.
Alexander concluded: “The best way to reach the necessary carbon goals for climate change with the least damage to our environment and to our economy will prove to be (1) building 100 new nuclear plants in 20 years; (2) electrifying half the cars and trucks in 20 years: we probably have enough unused electricity to plug these vehicles in at night without building one new power plant; and (3) putting solar panels on our rooftops. To make this happen, the government should launch mini Manhattan projects like the one we had in World War II: for recycling used nuclear fuel, for better batteries for electric vehicles, to make solar panels cost-competitive, and in addition, to recapture carbon from coal plants. This plan should produce the largest amount of energy with the lowest amount of carbon at the lowest possible cost, thereby avoiding the pain and suffering that come when high-cost energy pushes jobs overseas and makes it hard for low-income Americans to afford their heating and cooling bills.”